Saturday, February 22, 2003

Irwin Stelzer makes a good argument for a little trade pressure on our friends the French and Germans:
Boycotts, of course, have their limits, and might be difficult to sustain after the shooting is over in Iraq. Which brings us to what have come to be called "non-tariff barriers to trade." This is an art form perfected by the French and Germans. To coddle their inefficient farmers, these countries and their European Union allies have banned the importation of genetically modified foods. Never mind that their own scientists have found these foods to be perfectly safe, and that E.U. trade representatives privately admit that they could not sustain the ban were we to challenge it at the World Trade Organization. Many American agricultural products are verboten in Europe--no tariffs necessary to accomplish the protectionist objectives of the E.U.

Now we certainly don't want to do anything to harm farmers in E.U. countries that are standing with us. But would it be unreasonable to insist on more detailed labeling of Evian and other French waters that we consume by the millions of gallons, including the sort of health warnings that are more and more in demand by discerning consumers? Think of the effect of requiring large red labels, truthfully stating, "This water contains magnesium, silica, and sulfates." Scary stuff to the average consumer.

Then there are all those German cars. Here we could learn a lesson from the French, who once required that all electronic products coming into the country pass through a single port of entry, manned by a single inspector, who quite understandably fell far behind in the paperwork required of importers. Or from the Japanese, who at one time required that each vehicle imported into the country be given a safety test--blanket approval of each brand was not allowed.

Lest all of this sound harsh, keep in mind how the E.U., led by France, treats our most important non-agricultural exports, airplanes and audio-visual products. They subsidize Boeing's major competitor; limit American programs to 50 percent of TV air time; and impose taxes on movie tickets to subsidize French cinema and protect la culture from Hollywood

I think that 50% American programming is too much, even for Americans, but, as they say, turnabout's fair play, or more modernly, payback's a bitch.


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